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FROM Minos' realms in flight brave Daedalus
On pinion swift (praepetibus), 'tis said, did dare the sky.
In these lines of Virgil 1 Julius Hyginus 2 criticizes the use of pennis praepetibus as an improper and ignorant expression. “For,” says he, “those birds are called praepetes by the augurs which either fly onward auspiciously or alight in suitable places.” Therefore he thought it inappropriate in Virgil to use an augural term in speaking of the flight of Daedalus, which had nothing to do with the science of the augurs.

But of a truth it was Hyginus who was altogether foolish in supposing that the meaning of praepetes was known to him, but unknown to Virgil and to [p. 109] Gnaeus Matius, a learned man, who in the second book of his Iliad called winged Victory praepes in the following line: 3

While Victory swift (praepes) the victor's palm bestows.

Furthermore, why does he not find fault also with Quintus Ennius, who in his Annals uses praepes, not of the wings of Daedalus, but of something very different, in the line: 4

Brundisium girt with fair, propitious (praepete) port?
But if Hyginus had regarded the force and origin of the word rather than merely noting the meaning given to it by the augurs, he would certainly pardon the poets for using words in a figurative and metaphorical sense rather than literally. For since not only the birds themselves which fly auspiciously, but also the places which they take, since these are suitable and propitious, are called praepetes, therefore Virgil called the wings of Daedalus praepetes, since he had come from places in which he feared danger into safer regions. Furthermore, the augurs call places praepetes, and Ennius in the first book of his Annals said: 5

In fair, propitious (praepetibus) places they alight.
But birds that are the opposite of praepetes are called inferae, or “low,” 6 according to Nigidius Figulus, who says in the first book of his Private Augury: 7 “The right is opposed to the left, praepes to infera.” From this we may infer that birds were called praepetes which have a higher and loftier [p. 111] flight, since Nigidius said that the praepetes were contrasted with the inferae.

In my youth in Rome, when I was still in attendance on the grammarians, I gave special attention to Sulpicius Apollinaris. Once when there was a discussion about augural law and mention had been made of praepetes aves, I heard him say to Erucius Clarus, the city prefect, that in his opinion praepetes was equivalent to Homer's τανυπτέρυγες, or “wide-winged,” since the augurs had special regard to those birds whose flight was broad and wide because of their great wings. And then he quoted these verses of Homer: 8

You bid me trust the flight of wide-winged birds,
But I regard them not, nor think of them.

1 Aen. vi. 14 f.

2 Fr. 6, Fun.

3 Fr. 3, Bährens (F.P.R.).

4 488, Vahlen2. Cf. Gell. ix. 4. 1.

5 94, Vahlen2.

6 That is, low-flying, as opposed to swift-, or high-, flying.

7 Fr. 80, Swoboda.

8 Iliad xii. 237 f.

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